Commissioned by the Hallé Concert Society and first performed by the Hallé Orchestra, conducted by Sir Mark Elder on Thursday 23rd May 2013 at the Bridgewater Hall.
Near Midnight was written for the Hallé Orchestra during my period as Associate Composer from 2011 to 2015. I wanted the first piece I wrote for this orchestra to play on its many strengths and so there are moments of great virtuosity for individual orchestral sections, as well as music designed to exploit the very special, lyrical quality, which is so characteristic of this group.
As its title suggests, the piece has an introspective, nocturnal quality. The solitary, sometimes melancholy hours as one day moves into the next can be a time of reflection and unrest. When first sketching ideas for the piece, I came across a poem by D.H Lawrence called Week-night Service. Its melancholic undertones, images of tolling bells, high-spun moon and the indifference of night, immediately struck a chord with me. Throughout the piece fanfare-like brass passages act almost like the tolling of bells, sometimes distant but often insistent and clangourous, these episodes act as important markers in the structure of the piece.
Although continuous, the piece falls into four main sections. Beginning in the orchestra’s deepest register, with double basses and low brass, the music abruptly erupts into horn-lead fanfares. The first section is full of surging rising scales throughout the whole orchestra.
The second section is heralded by a fast, rhythmic duet for two trumpets punctuated by stabbing chords in the orchestra. Here the brass-led fanfares of the opening become more rapid outbursts in tuned percussion, upper woodwind and celesta.
Extended melody in the violins predominates in the third section forming the essentially melodic core of the work. Bright flourishes in woodwind, celesta and harp gradually take on a more significant role before becoming the central focus. The bell-like fanfares of the earlier sections begin to assert themselves once again before fragments of the restless, surging scales of the opening lead to the work’s main climax.
The final section is much quieter and reflective in nature, including solos for oboe, muted trumpet, clarinet and bassoon.
Programme note by Helen Grime
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